Karen Kay: bandwith as a Christmas gift and a thank you to the postman

PUBLISHED: 12:29 04 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:29 04 December 2015

Getty Images/amana images RF

Getty Images/amana images RF

Archant

If only bandwidth could arrive wrapped as a Christmas gift. Whether it's talking to faraway relatives, window shopping online or actual work, Karen would love some

Chatting to neighbours in our Chilterns hamlet frequently involves a throwaway line about our power supply, mobile phone signal or broadband service, all of which are erratic, at best.

Many of us often work from home, either for ourselves or for larger businesses, and lack of bandwidth is proving not just an irritant, but a serious limiting factor. I know local kitchen table operations with contracts across the globe. This is only possible thanks to the internet and e-commerce platforms.

Away from business, the internet is now a crucial part of civilised contemporary life. We can cast our eyes back to the rose-tinted world of yesteryear and wonder if it was a better place without the smartphones, tablets and laptops, but in truth, this technology has allowed families and friends living thousands of miles apart to talk freely, face to face, on a high resolution screen, at minimal cost.

We can order groceries on an iPad at bedtime for delivery before breakfast. Increasingly, children are set home learning online, rather than in an exercise book, and we can enjoy entertainment on-demand.

All of this relies on bandwidth, and when you don’t have it, you fall behind. As I write, David Cameron has promised that by 2020 every UK household should have fast (at least 10 Mbps) broadband as a basic utility, like power and clean water. Five years from now, 10 Mbps will seem painfully slow. Right now, it would be a luxury.

So, rather than whinge and whine, we’re looking proactively at our options. Our local BT exchange is ‘Infinity-enabled’ so, in theory, we should have access to high speed broadband. Nearby Chesham has recently undergone a national pilot scheme with Virgin Media, who laid in-pavement wifi spots to offer super-high-speed broadband – up to 166 Mbps - free to anyone who wishes to ‘street-surf’ in the town centre. Yet here we are, the wheezing, spluttering poorer cousin who can barely download an iTunes track.

We recently met with a team from a local company offering village wifi networks. Across Bucks and other counties boasting acres of countryside, rural communities are pooling resources to establish high speed networks, independent of national infrastructure.

Quite simply, we can’t afford to wait for the big guys to come to us. Hambleden, for instance, was a broadband not-spot until six years ago, when residents rallied together to establish a wifi network. With financial backing from local benefactors, householders now enjoy connectivity on a par with many urban hubs and compete commercially from a rural base.

We’re in the early stages of exploring the technology. Hopefully, we too will finally be able to enjoy that Netflix movie without it hitting the proverbial buffers. Or chat to relatives in Australia via Skype or Facetime without the screen freezing. And run viable enterprises, doing more to spread economic wealth beyond the M25 than any high speed rail line ever could. Oops, did I bring up the HS2 white elephant again?

Well done that weighed down postie

My super-smiley postman deserves an OBE for services to the chiropractic industry, given the amount of catalogues he regularly lugs to my home – but as the Christmas countdown continues apace, his back must be really suffering. Sorry, postie.

I love buying online or from a catalogue, and have previously written about the joys of this. Many complain that the Great British High Street has died thanks to the internet, but I believe it’s allowed a different character of business to thrive. Retailing has evolved for many reasons, largely the rise of the super-stores. But what the web has done is give a global shop window to specialist shops that may never have survived with only a bricks and mortar outlet.

Many towns and villages are running ‘Shop Local’ campaigns, encouraging us to buy gifts on our doorstep – and if you have some wonderful independent stores nearby, I wholeheartedly support this. But please remember that many local businesses sell online and rely on a far greater geographical catchment of customers to survive.

For example, The Dandy Kid in Wendover is a wonderful childrenswear boutique. The stock, curated by super-cool proprietor Becks, is gorgeous, but even as a niche destination store that has proved popular with stylish mums, she has a limited local audience. Selling online, she ships all over the world, and thus, a local business thrives. If you don’t have time to browse ‘real stores’ and want the convenience of online gift-buying, don’t forget to ‘Shop Local’ online this Christmas and support small UK ventures.


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